Fall 2010 A publication of the Wildlife Division—Getting Texans Involved
Coastal Prairie Conservation Initiative
An Example of Cooperation and Conservation
By Brent Ortego and Arlene Kalmbach
The increasingly threatened Coastal Prairie is a land that has seen major changes through the development of the area for agriculture, residential development and industry. Lehmann (1941) indicated that 93% of the six million acres of coastal prairie in Texas had been lost by 1937. Coastal prairie loss continued through the remainder of the 20th century and Smeins et al. (1991) estimated that <1% of the coastal prairie ecosystem remained in relatively pristine condition.
Coastal Prairies and Marshes
The Texas coast was once home to six million acres of extensive prairies - tall grass that reached to the shoulders of horses and an amazing pallet of wildflowers that brought color and nourishment to the wildlife of the area. These prairies were interspersed with a maze of marshes that served as a wildlife nursery and refuge. Today, most of the prairie is gone, and the marshes are bordered with urban development and industry. The wildlife is there as we will see in this newsletter, but some of the wildlife is raising great concern for the future of our coastal prairies and their associated marshes.
This newsletter looks at some of the unique species found on the coastal prairie and in their associated marshes, from terrapins to kangaroo rats and Whooping Cranes. For more detailed information on these and other coastal prairie issues, see the enewsletter at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/newsletters/eye_on_nature/.
The Live Oak Motte
Important Habitat Emblematic of the Texas Coast
John C. Arvin, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory
The Texas coast is mostly without natural forest cover. Where it is not cultivated it is largely coastal prairie with fresh and brackish marshes in the lower areas. Most remaining coastal prairie is used to graze cattle. This open terrain is broken only by groves dominated by Coastal Live Oak. This venerable tree, relatively impervious to the ravages of the coastal environment, often forms rounded groves of various sizes locally known as "mottes". These result from the live oak's ability to send up shoots from its expansive root system forming thickets and eventually substantial groves. The oaks in turn provide the shelter that less hardy plants require resulting in a dense, nurturing oasis in the extensive grasslands.
Such a Unique Creature...
By Stan Mays
If you spend any time exploring the brackish salt water marshes of coastal Texas (warning; bring plenty of mosquito spray) you may, if you are lucky, encounter a seldom seen native chelonian resident sunning itself on a patch of dry land or perhaps swimming just offshore. This would be the Texas Diamondback terrapin, one of the most interesting of our native reptile species.
Gulf Coast Kangaroo Rat
Conservation and Research in Coastal Texas
By M. Clay Green
"Remember to watch for snakes when you are out walking the dunes". That was the last thing I remember saying to my graduate student, Sean Rissel, moments before we both, walking in unison up a dune at Padre Island National Seashore, stepped on a Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox). Fortunately for everybody involved, no persons or snake were harmed by the situation. Earlier that day, I had been thinking about the start of our research on the Gulf Coast Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys compactus) and thought to myself, where there are rodents, there are probably snakes too. While we did encounter the rattlesnake, our goal out on the dunes of Padre Island was to find Gulf Coast Kangaroo Rats.
Whooping Crane Comeback
By Amanda Diaz
In a true testament to the success of wildlife conservation, the Whooping Crane returns to the central Texas coast every year to winter. It was merely decades ago when only 15 of these magnificent birds were left in existence at Aransas.
This federally endangered species is on a long road to recovery. In 1860, an already depleted population of about 1400 whooping cranes existed in North America. Further habitat loss and increased hunting contributed to a cataclysmic 99% loss of the population by 1941. It is from these remaining 15 birds that the species has repopulated.
Winter Hummingbird Study
Produces Hidden Jewels on the Texas Coast
By Brent & Sue Ortego
Landowners enjoy the spectacle of the massive Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration along the Gulf Coast in the fall when millions of birds migrate through the area by managing gardens and maintaining hummingbird feeders. Landowners typically stop maintaining feeders after October when almost all migrants have passed. The relatively few birds remaining do not attract much attention. However, this small wintering hummingbird population is relatively large by United States standards and is comprised of 8 species; mostly from western states and Canada. This diverse winter assemblage of hummingbirds largely goes unnoticed by the public.
The Plightof the Beautiful Prairie Dancer
By Mark Klym
The sun was just cresting the waves as we sat quietly in our "popup" blind on the prairie just outside Texas City. The morning had started very early with a predawn hike into a quiet, secluded spot well away from highway traffic and noisy commutes. Now we waited in the quiet, dark tent for the tell tale call that would inform us that our quarry was present. The wait seemed unending, but then the silence was broken by an eerie mournful booming sound that let us know our wait was over.
The Back Porch
Coastal Prairie and Post Oak Savannah
By David Forrester
My "back porch" is basically the Coastal Prairie and Post Oak Savannah country west of Houston, east of Victoria, and south of Austin. This is one of the many areas of the state that has experienced and continues to experience intense habitat fragmentation due to urbanization, brush encroachment, introduction of improved grasses, invasive plant encroachment, and just more and more people on the landscape. As a result, we have seen a lot of the native habitat disappear (at the worst) or experience alterations (at the best). There are very few examples left out there of what the native Coastal Prairie or native Post Oak Savannah used to look like.
Did You Know?
- All of the Whooping Cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge migrate each year from Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada's Northwest Territories?
- By 1991 less than 1% of the Texas Coastal Prairie remained in natural condition.
- There are currently about 90 Attwater's Prairie Chickens in the wild. These can be found in three populations along the coastal prairie.
- Native Americans living on the coastal prairie are said to have used the dance of male Attwater's Prairie Chickens as a pattern for their ceremonial dances.
- There were 264 Whooping Cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge at the peak of the 2009 season.
- Whooping Cranes are heavily dependant on a healthy blue crab population for survival.
Introduction to Texas
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This 10" full-color identification wheel is a helpful reference to keep nearby when you watch the hummingbirds. Sixteen hummingbird species are featured, all of which have been documented in Texas! For each bird, the wheel tells you its range in North America, Habitat Type, and distingishing features of both males and females.
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